The Seasonal Table: 9 Reasons to Eat for the Local Season
Have you ever wondered why it's more expensive to buy strawberries in February, or why tomatoes tend to taste tart or sour in October? Perhaps you've noticed that your canned artichokes are labeled 'product of Peru' or your grapefruit only comes from Mexico or Paraguay. These anomalies all boil down to seasonal and regional availability.
Way back in the day when we as a society relied on local farms to supply our produce we were dependent on the seasons for what produce we could consume. If you were to travel outside of big cities in the states and went to places say in eastern Europe or rural Africa you would find those practices still in effect. Here in the U.S. of A. that way of life is rendered virtually unnecessary by chain grocery stores, except perhaps in very small towns and communities.
However, we big city dwellers have begun to readily embrace the newfound concept of the farmers' market. Visiting a farmers' market each season you'll find that the same vendors may put up shop but they aren't selling the same wares - the farmer that sells carrots and leeks in autumn may be selling blueberries and tomatoes come spring. And some things you may notice you can never find at a farmers' market near you - because it doesn't grow in your area.
So, what do you care as long as you can find what you're looking for in a store? We'll give you nine good reasons you should be eating what's in season locally:
(courtesy of Leda Meredith's The Locavore's Handbook)
Help save the planet by minimizing your carbon footprint - A regional diet consumes seventeen times less oil and gas than a typical diet of nonlocal food.
Eat food with superior taste - Instead of food bred for shipping durability and long shelf life, local ingredients are raised for flavor and harvested at their peak (so they taste better the less travel time they have to get to your mouth!).
The more nutrients the better - The shorter the time from harvest to eating, the fewer nutrients are lost. Food that has traveled thousands of miles and sat on a store shelf for days has less nutritional value than it's recently picked local counterpart.
Help to preserve biodiversity - Ninety-six percent of commercial vegetable varieties have gone extinct in the past one hundred years. Small farms and home gardeners preserve genetic diversity by growing heirloom varieties that aren't suitable for conventional agriculture. Each variety has unique traits that can be useful in plant breeding, such as disease resistance. And each variety has unique flavors that will be lost to us forever unless those varieties are kept viable.
Avoid stuff like mad cow disease - One hundred percent of the food-borne illness scares of the past few decades came from industrial agriculture. By avoiding the products of industrial agriculture, you can be much surer of the safety of your food.
Support the local economy - Money spent on local foods is almost twice as likely to be reinvested within the local economy as money spent at a chain supermarket.
Preserve fertile farmland and wildlife habitats - Small organic farms restore and revitalize their soils rather than deplete them as conventional farming does. They also protect the green spaces adjacent to the farmed fields, providing habitat for wildlife.
Connect to nature and the seasons - Eating locally connects you to the natural progression of the agricultural calendar in your area, which puts you in touch with the seasons. (It also keeps your diet varied by changing each season.)
Support your local farmers - Farmers who sell directly to the customers through farmers' markets cut out the middlemen and get retail value for their food, which enables them to stay on their land.
Okay, so how do you know what's in season locally if you're not browsing the farmers' market tents? A really cool resource for figuring out what's in season in your locale is https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org/.
So, let's say you're trying harder to eat regional food that's in season but you're jonesing for something that just can't be found in a farmers' market? Our suggestion is canned or frozen foods above their fresh distance-traveling counterparts, particularly in the colder seasons when certain fresh produce is harder to come by.
Why? Canned and especially frozen foods tend to be prepped and packaged within a day of being harvested - so their nutrients are retained in their preserved state, whereas their fresh counterparts, having traveled the same distance but without the protection of vacuum-sealed containers, have continually been leaking nutrients.
We do however caution you to read labels and pay attention to where your packaged food is coming from because food safety is always a concern you should have - you're putting something in your body, you want to make sure it'll keep you healthy. The safest food is going to come from somewhere within easy distance to you and from an organic source.
For us, we look forward to eating these nine local foods during the winter season:
If you're interested in further information regarding farmers' markets, keep your eyes open for our Farmers' Market post, coming soon.
What about you? What grows locally in your area during the winter? What's your favorite winter produce?
Interested in further information regarding eating locally? Or perhaps you have something you could add? Let us know in the comments section below!